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Urban Green Man

June 22nd, 2012

Urban Green Man is the both the title and intended subject matter of a forthcoming theme anthology from Edge Publishing for which I’ve been invited to submit a story. Considering all this moss that’s been creeping from my armpits and between my toes of late and the details of my living circumstances over the past couple years, you’d think this would be right up my alley, right in my hermitage, so to speak… but for some reason I’m really having a hard time at it.

The below ramblings on nature and the city are the result of an attempt at writing-avoidance aka “brainstorming” in order to figure out what the green man myth could possibly mean in an urban context and in the modern age.


Some variety of blue lobelia, best guess Lobelia kalmii, Franklin Park Wilderness, Roxbury, MA.

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   Birds, Environmentalism, Flowers, HM, Religion, Writings | No Comments »

Red-Breasted Nuthatch

January 1st, 2011


Sitta canadensis, Arnold Arboretum conifers section

This guy is a bit north of his range for the season.

Happy new year.

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Bobolink

July 12th, 2010


Dolichonyx oryzivorus, summer plumage. Upland meadow, Graves Farm Sanctuary, Haydenville, MA

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Turkey, Heron, Vulture, Rail

March 8th, 2010


Ocellated Turkey, Meleagris ocellata


Great egret, Ardea alba, in the breakwater swamps inland of Monterrico.


A black vulture, Coragyps atratus, on the ruins of Temple 1.


I think this is a tyrant flycatcher, Tyrannus verticalis. They nest in the western US in the summer.


And a gray-necked wood-rail or chiricote, Aramides cajanea. These were super hilarious to watch walking around with their little tail-feather tuft and their bizarro backwards knees. They are lowland marsh birds, no doubt prayed upon by the caimán–of which I have a picture somewhere.

Getting to the end of the Guate pictures, though. I’ll save that one for last.

Fine thing about these Guatemala pictures…I get to gaze on their green jewel-eyed wonder and not think about how spring is not yet here and there’s still snow in the hills. Going to the Smith Bulb Show this week–another ritual of anticipation.

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Window Birds

February 9th, 2009

I figured out how to take halfway decent pictures of birds in the cherry and shag birch trees outside my kitchen even with screens in the way. I realize they are just your run of the mill songbirds, but around this time of February, with the snow piled as high as it is and not much sign of letting up, even silent winter songbirds start looking pretty interesting. I like the way they get all fluffy when it’s cold.


A Northern Mockingbird, mimus polyglottos


And a Northern Carndinal female.

I also see a lot of jays, bluebirds, dark-eyed juncoes, goldfinches, nuthatches, tufted titmice. Maybe if I really start to go stir crazy I’ll try to take pictures of all of them.

   Birds, Visions, Winter | 2 Comments »

A Miraculous Egg

June 13th, 2008

Found this in my garden this morning, cradled by the bare earth in a gentle indentation between the rosemary and basil: a robin’s egg, whole and unharmed, fallen out of a clear sky.

Certain spiritual philosophers I know would classify such an event as an omen, a portent. A message of wisdom, timely and explicit, left for me by the universe. But if such is the case, I have to admit I can’t decipher it, beyond the obvious: creativity, fecundity, the divine spark. Go forth, Mr. DeLuca, and multiply. Water the tomatoes. Pull weeds. Nurture love. Share knowledge. Write fiction.

What shall we say, and shall we call it by a name
As well to count the angels dancing on a pin
Water bright as the sky from which it came
And the name is on the earth that takes it in
We will not speak but stand inside the rain
And listen to the thunder shout
I am, I am, I am, I am

—John Perry Barlow, Weather Report Suite

Thanks, god. I’m on it.

   Birds, Religion, Spring, Visions | 3 Comments »

Tree Swallow

April 16th, 2008


Tachycineta bicolor
Highland meadow, Singing Brook Farm, Worthington, MA

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Return of the Spirit Owl

February 12th, 2008


Barred owl, strix varia

The story of the Spirit Owl is simple but eerie. One cold afternoon in the late winter of 2005, I glance out the office window of the Berkshire Hills farm where I work, and sitting in the branches of a crabapple tree not twenty feet from the front door is this beautiful, deadly-eyed owl. I point it out to my employer, the wisewoman and herbalist, who tells me straight-facedly that this owl’s presence comes as no surprise—it is a messenger, a bearer of news from the spirit world, and she has seen it here before, years ago, sitting in that very same tree. I don’t believe her. But I get my camera and go downstairs to take a picture. This owl has nerves of steel. I step out the front door and inch closer, pressing the shutter intermittently, a little too chilly and too freaked out by the whole situation to get a steady shot. Only when I am practically on top of it does the owl perform a stately turn and swoop silently off into the pines.

All this happens in broad daylight, mind you.

I go home that night and get out my bird books, determined to find a rational explanation for the owl’s uncanny behavior. National Audubon Society’s Field Guide to Birds: Eastern Region has the following to say about strix varia:

This owl is most often seen by those who seek it out in its dark retreat, usually a thick grove of trees in lowland forest. There it rests quietly during the day, coming out at night to feed on rodents, birds, frogs, and crayfish.

In other words, barred owls are nocturnal—they don’t come out in daylight.

The next day, in defiance of its very nature, the owl is back again, sitting on the same branch staring at the door, at me peeking through it, exactly as though it expects me to shed my human disguise and fly off with it into the shadows. And it’s there again the day after that.

What does it mean? What does it want from me? Why won’t it look away?

But on the fourth day, the owl doesn’t return. With the immediate affront to my rational sensibilities removed, my feeling of ontological horror fades. After a few weeks, I give myself permission to dismiss it and go on about my life. And that was the end of it. Or so I thought.

Now it’s almost exactly three years later—the early spring of 2008. I show up at work this morning, glance out the office window, and there’s the owl again. In the same damn tree, practically on the same branch. Only this time, it doesn’t quite seem to want to meet my eye. As though it were ashamed of me.

Is it the same owl? It can’t be. How long do owls live? Kept in captivity, according to this site, barred owls have been known to survive up to twenty-three years.

It sure looks like the same owl.

I took a picture (much nicer this time, if I do say so myself), and compared it with the blurry photo of three years ago, and compared that with a murky, distant picture I found in the archives, which my boss snapped when the owl first visited in the early spring of 2002. It’s hard to say with the older photo, but the two shots I took are practically identical. I compare them with the identification photo in the Audubon guide, and there, the distinction is clear: our owl has the same penetrating, coal-black eyes, the same mottled pattern on the breast, but it’s sleeker, with less rust color in the feathers, more white. A quick google image search confirms this: barred owls look alike, but there is quite a bit of variation between individuals. All of which leads me to only one conclusion.

It’s the same owl.

What the hell is going on? Is this truly, as the wise-woman suggests, an owl of ill omen? Is it some restless ghost that returns to the site on the anniversary of its grisly murder? Is it the spirit of an ancestor in animal disguise, come to watch over my shoulder and make sure I dot all my i’s and close all my HTML tags?

Actually, I’ve been thinking about this since I got home, and I believe I have the answer. Most of it, anyway. Enough to preserve my rationalist worldview for now. It’s the three year cycle in the owl’s eerie pattern that really throws me. But even that too can be explained away, with a stretch. If you’re of the ilk who’d prefer to think magic is real, well, just don’t read past the cut.

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   Birds, Visions, Winter, Writings | 12 Comments »

Bluebird in January

January 7th, 2008


Sialia sialis Frozen highland marsh, Barkhamsted, CT.

Don’t usually see them this far north in the wintertime.

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Myrtle Warbler

April 29th, 2007


Dendroica coronata
Mt. Toby State Forest, Sunderland, MA

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